In my role as Vice-President of the Federation. I have been working with the staff of the NFSA to identify films that are in the NFSA Non-Theatrical lending collection but aren’t, in my opinion, being borrowed as much as they deserve to be.
This is the first of what will hopefully be a regular column where I draw attention to the many excellent films in the Non-Theatrical Lending Collection, available in 16mm prints.
The criteria for the choices are films of quality, prints in good condition (because rarely booked), and the rights not expiring anytime soon. It is hoped that some more bookings of the films will encourage the development of the Collection.
HUMAN DESIRE USA 1954
Made by Fritz Lang immediately after “The Big Heat”, “Human Desire” is somewhat overshadowed by the success of that film. It is a remake of Jean Renoir’s 1938 “La Bete Humaine”(The human beast) with Jean Gabin. In the Renoir film the protagonist is a psychopathic sex murderer, which created problems in 50s USA. In this version Glenn Ford plays a Korean War veteran returning to his job as a railroad engineer. He gets drawn into a sordid affair with a violent railroad supervisor’s wife, leading to a murder. Lang uses the railroad yards and trains to striking visual effect.
The 16mm print of Human Desire was acquired from a collector only 3 years ago and is in great condition.
THE RAID USA 1954
Director: Hugo Fregonese. Screenplay: Sydney Boehm from a story “Affair at St Albans” by Herbert Ravenal Sass. With Van Heflin, Anne Bancroft, Lee Marvin, Richard Boone, Peter Graves, Tommy Rettig.
Set during the American Civil War. Van Heflin plays a Confederate officer who enters a Northern town, pretending to be a Canadian businessman, intending to spring a surprise raid. He gets drawn into the life of the town when he falls for a glamorous widow, played by Anne Bancroft. “War makes younger widows”. Her son, played by Tommy Rettig, the star of “The 5000 Fingers of Dr T”, becomes attached to him.
Ironies abound in this fine screenplay, as the officer becomes a town hero when he is forced to shoot one of his men who is about to blow their cover. The scene where Van Heflin, in Confederate uniform, tries to “explain” the rationale for war to a devastated boy is very powerful.
Peter Graves spent many years in Australia, filming the “Whiplash” TV series. A lovely Technicolor print of a little seen underrated minor masterpiece.
THE SUN SHINES BRIGHT USA 1952
Director: John Ford. Screenwriter: Laurence Stallings, based on three short stories by Irvin S. Cobb. With: Charles Winninger, Stepin Fetchit, Dorothy Jordan, John Russell, Arleen Whelan, Milburn Stone.
“The Sun Shines Bright” is one of John Ford’s greatest films, yet is little-known even among Ford fans. Set in Kentucky in the 1900s, it is a flavoursome picture of small town life, riven by guilty secrets, racial tension and the still open wounds of the Civil War. Little-known actor Charles Winninger gives a magnificent performance as ageing Judge Priest, a warm-hearted yet wily character, standing for re-election, for what will be the last time, against the forces of “progress”, represented by carpetbagger Milburn Stone.
The print of THE SUN SHINES BRIGHT is the version slightly shortened for “B” picture (!) cinema release but all the great scenes are intact. In a just world, Winninger would have won an Academy Award. The scene where the judge stands up to a lynch mob, and (especially) a lengthy funeral sequence, are among the greatest in all cinema. Ford described “The Sun Shines Bright” as “really my favourite, the only one I like to see over and over again”.
WINGS USA 1927
Director: William A. Wellman. Screenplay: Hope Loring, Louis D.Lighton. With: Clara Bow, Charles “Buddy” Rogers, Richard Arlen, Gary Cooper. Silent with inter-titles.
“Wings” won the first Academy Award in 1927, the last silent film to do so until “The Artist” in 2011. It has never been surpassed in its recreation of aerial combat. Wellman, himself a former World War 1 combat pilot, insisted that the combat footage be recreated without the use of models and process shots. The full co-operation of the army ensured authentic simulation of trench warfare.
The simple plot has two airmen competing for the love of the same woman. The two men join the Air Corps in WW1, and become aces. The then rising star Charles “Buddy” Rogers forms a triangle with big star Clara Bow (the “It” girl) and Gary Cooper in a small but stand-out part.
Unlike many silent films in the NTLC the print of WINGS does not have a music soundtrack. Silent films were never meant to be shown silent. See this not as a threat but as an opportunity. Audiences love silent films with live music accompaniment. Make an occasion of it! A small group of music makers can prepare a score, or a single instrument, usually a piano, works well. Some pianists, especially jazz pianists, are good at improvising. Or a score can be made up using existing music.
John Lanser, from the Workshop Film Group at Willoughby in Sydney, has done numerous scores this way, and would I’m sure be happy to advise.